Monday, April 7, 2014

To Wear Pink Slippers or Not to Wear Pink Slippers


Parisian Dancing Figure, La Belle Assemblée, 1807


Here is the description of the fashion plate above. I love that the young woman is dancing and that her outfit seems designed for dancing. Check out how short her skirt is.

PARISIAN COSTUME. No 2.—A Parisian Dancing Figure. A round frock of Italian crape, over a white satin slip, ornamented at the bottom with a pink and silver ribband. Long waist, laced up the back with pink or silver chord; a plain bosom cut very low, trimmed tel que la robe. The melon sleeve, formed of alternate stripes of pink satin and white crape; a narrow sash of pink ribband, tied loosely behind. Hair combed straight from the temples, and leaving a few simple curls on the forehead, is formed in full braids at the back of the head, confined with a coronet comb of pearl, and ornamented with a bunch of auricula or clove-carnation. A bouquet composed of the rose and myrtle. Necklace, earrings, and bracelets of fine Chinese pearl. Gloves of French kid, and slippers of pink satin, tied round the ankles with silver ribband. Plain silk stockings, a French white.


(Fashions for October 1807, La Belle Assemblée: or, Bell's court and fashionable magazine. Vol. III, from July 1 to December 31, 1807, p. 169.)

Apparently, pink dancing slippers were fashionable for a Parisian woman in 1807, but not for a London woman of 1817. There are far more nuances involved, but if you were small-town younger sister, and your London dwelling married sister said not to wear them, you probably wouldn't be caught dead in pink slippers.

SECOND LETTER FROM A YOUNG MARRIED LADY, IN LONDON, TO HER SISTER IN THE COUNTRY.

MY DEAR Amy,-What changes does this London produce! Surely there is something in its air which totally causes a metamorphosis in all our ways of thinking and acting! Do not you recollect that good old lady, as we used to call her, who came to London last winter, in order to obtain the best advice against some obstinate spasms, which threatened to send her to her grave a few years sooner than, according to the promised length of our lives, she had a right to expect?

Well, my dear girl, this woman, so correct, so amiable in the country, is turned out the most extravagant kind of character you can possibly conceive; she has now no spasms but what is caused by her excessive sensibility. And she sets herself off for a young woman, even in my company; I have not the heart to contradict her, and Fitzosborne quizzes her most unmercifully, while she takes all his compliments for sterling truth. You know how thin she is, but she stuffs out her corsets, wears eight or nine petticoats, I really believe, that she may look fat; for it is the fashion in London for every lady after thirty to be quite corpulent. What is best of all, the good lady, though we know she is of Cornish birth, affects to be a native of London!

This woman is a source of amusement to us, particularly when she calls us her young rustics; and as by arriving in town before us she has seen a few more plays than ourselves, she affects to know all the actors and actresses, and all the secret history of the Green-Room. We once accompanied her to the Opera, where she called all the dancers fine actors, and laughed heartily at a most serious opera, declaring such and such sentences were excellent jests!

But enough of this curious character; a word or two in preference about my husband, who is actually as great a coquet as this old woman. He has bought a large wrapping great coat with two enormous capes, of an ugly olive green, and a pair of loose pantaloons, pulled out like a hoop petticoat; he would not wear a pair of boots that had a seam in them for the world; and as to his hat, I declare I do not know what to compare it to; it has a low crown, and the brim looks like a. spout. Yet he is always crying out about: my ridiculous French bonnets, as he calls them, and says my head is so loaded with flowers that it looks like a chimney sweeper’s garland, or else that my plumes of ostrich feathers put him in mind of a hearse. I am resolved, however, never to purchase any one fashionable article except at the Magazin de Modes, in St. James‘s-street; for I find that there are milliners here that impose on us country people, and those at the west end of the town are the only criterions of fashion.

The ladies about the court, consequently those who reside at the west end, are generally attired with an elegant simplicity; they never wear glaring colours, a prodigious quantity of flowers, nor a profusion of ribband or other trimmings; while we in the country, it must he confessed, are something like the rich citizen‘s wives here, we love every thing showy, profuse, and glittering.

Poor Fitzosborne does not much like the late hours of London; you know he scarce ever takes any thing between breakfast and dinner: now, as we breakfast at eleven and dine at half past seven, he is obliged to conform to the London fashion of lunching (I am sure that term would be laughed at if it came from a country gentleman or lady). Well, at this lunching you would be shocked to see how tine delicate young ladies will eat fried fish, beef-stakes, potted eels, and toss off half pint tumblers of ale and porter, and not unfrequently drink as much as half-a bottle of madeira before dinner. While, for my own part, I take as much gravy soup, and perhaps veal outlet or cold fowl, as would serve me for dinner at our homely country hour of three o'clock.

You ask me about the fashions; pray then, I beseech you, dance no more in those vile blue or pink satin slippers, which we both once so much admired: only white shoes are worn at balls. The waists are worn short, but not in that foolish Grecian style we were once so pleased with: no, it is now a pretty little waist, very tight at bottom, but with the bust well marked out: the feathers in the hat I send you, must balance in that easy way as they are now placed; and you must not, by an ill-placed pin, make them more towering, or more apparently firm. Have your silk gowns trimmed with blond; and when you throw a shawl over your dress, dispose it in an elegant kind of drapery about your form, and by no means let it be wrapped round you for the purpose it was first intended; that of shielding you from the cold.

I have paid innumerable visits this morning; one was to our old aunt, the Baronet's widow, whom neither you nor I have seen since we were little children: she embraced me with a transport, which I know was not sincere, for she is not at all altered in temper, but is as ill-natured as a wasp. However, she has introduced us to some of her noble friends, and through her means we have received an invitation to the Honourable Mrs. Verdantique‘s private masquerade.

We next went to call on two conjugal turtles, cousins to Fitzosborne, and the conduct of the gentleman put him in an ill humour for the rest of the day: yet the lady is so pretty that she deserves to be indulged in every thing; though the husband certainly carries his attentions too far: she has lately been confined with her first child, and the husband is constantly beside her, addressing the terms, my jewel, and my life; first to the mother, then to the infant. The new patent cot stands on the table; for every article of luxury and case, both for child and mother, is attended to in this metropolis: well, this quean-cot of a husband arrange the pillow, the covertures, &c. hands around the caudle to the guests, and presents a mess of broth to his dear wife; holds the screen between her and the fire or the sun: cries hush! if she has the headache, and runs to call the servant that the ringing of the bell may not disturb her. "Ah!" said I, “Fitzosborne, do you think you will ever make so good a nurse?" He was too much enraged to answer me then, but when we got home he told me, and very justly, that though every politeness and attention ought to be paid to a woman, he could not endure to see a man make such a fool of himself.

I am happy to hear that you have quite left off pockets; they are entirely exploded in London: nevertheless, fashion is never fixed; it is in London as in the country, beauty that gives laws to it: if a celebrated fair one was to wear pockets on the outside of her gown, or even tyed round her neck, I doubt not but all the world would follow it. Fashions too are sought after and found out; they are not invented: a woman of taste and fashion wishes to have a large hat, and she puts it on in that style that it; becomes universally adopted. Another has a bonnet on, or a turban put strangely together, made up in a hurry; nevertheless it is becoming, and every one is eager to have the same.

Adieu! I am sorry to tell you I have lost all the roses in my check; the lily has taken place of them, and which, if I do not lead a more quiet life, will, I fear, give place to the jonquil. --

MARIA.


(La Belle Assemblée: or, Bell's court and fashionable magazine. Vol. XVI – new series, from July 1 to December 31, 1817. p. 37-38.)